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Friday, September 30, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Win a SIGNED COPY of Lev AC Rosen’s “All Men of Genius”!!!

Order “All Men of GeniusHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Read FBC's Review of “All Men of Genius
Read Lev AC Rosen’s Guest Post HERE

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, two of the most beloved works by literary masters, All Men of Genius takes place in an alternate Steampunk Victorian London, where science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father’s policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won’t be easy, not with her friend Jack’s constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke’s young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet’s alter ego, “Ashton.” Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, and the way Violet’s pulse quickens whenever the young duke, Ernest (who has a secret past of his own), speaks to her. She soon realizes that it’s not just keeping her secret until the end of the year faire she has to worry about: it’s surviving that long...

In support of the September 27, 2011 North American publication of Lev AC Rosen’s debut novel, “All Men of Genius”, Fantasy Book Critic is giving away ONE SIGNED COPY of “All Men of Genius” courtesy of Tor!!!

Giveaway has ended. Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:

1) Open to US Residents Only
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
4) No Purchase Necessary
5) Giveaway Has Ended
6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Prizes To the Winners

Winners of the Night Shade Books Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Doug Sturtevant (Arizona) and Jeff Raymond (Massachusetts) who were both randomly selected to win a SET of The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu, Courtney Schafer’s The Whitefire Crossing, Stina Leicht’s Of Blood & Honey, and Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock, with each book SIGNED by its respective author!!! Each winner will also receive some other goodies including bookmarks and T-Shirts courtesy of Night Shade Books! For more information about these books and authors, please visit the following links:

Read FBC’s Review of “Miserere: An Autumn Tale
Read FBC’s Review of “Of Blood & Honey
Read FBC’s Review of “The Whitefire Crossing
Read FBC’s Review of “The Winds of Khalakovo
Read FBC’s Interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu, Courtney Schafer, Stina Leicht & Teresa Frohock

GUEST POST: Abusing History by Lev AC Rosen

I have a hardcore BDSM-type relationship with history. I abuse it horribly, then I do some research, it abuses me, I abuse it back . . . and we both love it. At least I do. And history has never protested or used our safeword (nuclear) so I’m guessing she loves it to.

Seriously, here are some bits of history I totally abused while writing All Men of Genius:

1) Ada Byron died in 1852, 31 years before my book starts. She most likely died of ovarian cancer, but no one really knew what was happening at the time, so I prolonged her life by giving her a hysterectomy—we won’t even talk about how I’ve abused science—and then, to top it off, I killed her husband off before he actually died. Why? Well, Ada is just a fascinating character to start with—a mathematical genius, imprisoned in her youth by a crazy mother. But most importantly she was a woman working in the scientific world and doing so successfully. She was respected by her peers. So when I wrote the book I decided that having her there as this icon of ‘yes it could happen, but it so rarely does’ in regards to women in science would work in my favor. Plus, as I said, I just adore her. I tried to use her sparingly, since she’s something of an overused figure in steampunk. I’m not sure I succeeded in that. She’s just so awesome. She gambled and smoked and tried to run off with her tutor when she was a teenager. I’m not saying these are positive qualities — but they are interesting ones.

2) Matthias Forney, the American train engineer was a real person, a brilliant engineer. However, I couldn’t find a single photo or painting of him, so I completely made up his physical appearance. Awful, I know. However, I can share this, for those of you who have read the book; I did not make up Annie. And here’s a bonus happy ending. Awwwwww.

3) JC Adams, Violet and Ashton’s father, was a real person as well, and really was one of the people at the conference in DC who decided where GMT should start. That said, all I had was his name. I made only minimal efforts to find out anything about him because I had a character in mind already. I found nothing, so I went ahead exactly as I had planned. In fact, I chose Mr. Adams because out of all the British attendees of the conference, he was the one I could find out the least about. And I liked his surname.

And those are just the people. Of course there’s plenty of other actual history I abused—I invented a college and put it smack in the middle of the city over another college. I created several noble families which never existed and gave them roles to play in history, as well as reputations and land and all that. And as I said, best not to talk about the science—airships, talking rabbits—all of it is the sort of mad science that Victorian writers were theorizing about, but it never actually happened.

So when does history get her turn to abuse me back? When the research happens. Opening a book is like a smack in the face. You see, the truth is, I don’t like stretching history too much. I like using what’s already there — but that said, I do have plans and plots thought out. For example, I didn’t know Ada’s husband lived until 1893 (like a decade after the novel starts) — why would I? I didn’t care about him, I was focused on her. But suddenly, I needed a reason for why Ada was always alone, never mentioned her husband, and in fact was referred to as a widow in the book. Luckily, though history abuses, it also inspires: Her husband was also a scientist, so it wasn’t too difficult to have one of his inventions kill him off—especially as he worked with steam-presses. Gruesome, but effective.

This is the abuse-inspire cycle I often have with history—it presents problems, but offers unique solutions as well. And I love the solutions I come up with. Before I did research on Ada’s husband I was just going to kill him in an airship crash. How dull is that?

I wasn’t a big history buff in high school or college. I loved Victorian literature, and I got history through period novels—but opening an actual history book? They’re so boring, right? I have no idea when this changed. But somewhere, my research went from ‘oh, I have to read that now’ to ‘oh, I get to read that now!’ I think maybe it’s because I have a more interactive relationship with the history now. I see little pieces like a Persian shah who died of gout, or how in Bali people with dreadlocks are considered healers, and it inspires something (for future books, I’m afraid, not this one — but in the series). I see a problem in what I’m writing? I go research. Usually, I stumble upon another problem while researching, but I usually find a fix, too.

So I abuse history, she abuses me back and yet I manage to reach greater heights of inspiration. Everybody wins. I hope.

ABOUT ALL MEN OF GENIUS:

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, two of the most beloved works by literary masters, All Men of Genius takes place in an alternate Steampunk Victorian London, where science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father’s policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won’t be easy, not with her friend Jack’s constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke’s young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet’s alter ego, “Ashton.” Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, and the way Violet’s pulse quickens whenever the young duke, Ernest (who has a secret past of his own), speaks to her. She soon realizes that it’s not just keeping her secret until the end of the year faire she has to worry about: it’s surviving that long...

ABOUT LEV AC ROSEN:

Lev AC Rosen attended Oberlin College in Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing & English, and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. His short story “Painting” was the inaugural piece for Esopus Magazine’s ‘New Voices’ section. His work has also been featured on various blogs including Tor.com. All Men of Genius is his first novel. For more information, please visit the links below:

Order “All Men of GeniusHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Read FBC's Review of "All Men of Genius"
Thursday, September 29, 2011

"All Men of Genius" by Lev Rosen (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Lev Rosen Website
Read the First Two Chapters HERE
Order "All Men of Genius" HERE

INTRODUCTION: With the super enticing blurb below, "All Men of Genius" is a novel I have planned to read as soon as I could obtain a copy:

"Inspired by Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, All Men of Genius takes place in a Victorian London familiar but fantastical, where mad science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father's policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won't be easy, not with her friend Jack's constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke's young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet's alter ego, "Ashton." Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, the way Violet's pulse quickens whenever Ernest speaks to her, and a deadly legacy left by Ernest's father. She soon realizes that it's not just keeping her secret until the end of the year she has to worry about: it's surviving that long."

In contrast to the trashy crop of contemporary mashups of UF with classics that both degrade the original works and pander to the lowest common denominator, I am quite excited when an original work that reinterprets classic works in a sff-nal context appears and while last year's Shades of Milk and Honey was a bit lighter than I expected and The Dream of Perpetual Motion did not connect with me, All Men of Genius hit all the right notes and I will explain why next.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: All Men of Genius succeeds because it hits the right balance in both style and content, while it charms you from the first page in accepting the over-the-top happenings that could easily transform the novel into pure farce. If you are familiar with Twelfth Night in any of its various incarnations across the centuries, you will see its clear and acknowledged influence in both naming and relationships, though of course the author adds his own modern touches.

On the other hand the world building is pure madcap steampunk with automatons, crazy inventions that somehow work and all around outrageous inventiveness. As I kept turning the pages, I was wondering what seemingly insane contraption that somehow the magical prose of the author manages to sell to us, will come up next.

And of course the characters have personalities to match - outside of the main ones, Violet, Ernest, Cecily, Ashton and Jack and several of their friends who are more or less what we expect, though they also sport last names like Cheek and Pale - most of the rest are pure mannerism with names to match like Bunburry, Bracknel, Prism and Curio, while the main villain has the sinister sounding name of Volio. And it works so well that you cannot stop but be extremely entertained every moment of this wonderful tale.

The dialog has also its share of one liners that made me crack up laughing, though there is a lot of "serious stuff" especially about the stereotyping of gender roles, but also about poverty, progress and diversity. While on first glance, there is a whiff of "children of privilege" in our characters, the novel quickly throws that on its ear with some extremely well done scenes as for example when Violet "accidentally" happens upon Ashton in bed with their family's handsome coachman Anthony in retaliation for Ashton hiding her acceptance letter to the Institute - letter that of course comes to Ashton as Violet has "to become" her twin to be admitted. And so it goes with the mixing of classes...

It goes without saying that All Men of Genius (A++) flows superbly on the page and you are compelled to turn the pages, while the ending is in the spirit of Shakespeare and offers a complete package though I would enjoy a return to this universe; maybe the hinted possibilities of space travel and an expedition to the Moon?

Highly, highly recommended and an utterly fun and charming book that I am pretty sure I will revisit on occasion in the future.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“The Burning Soul” by John Connolly (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Burning SoulHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC Review’s of “The Lovers
Read FBC Review’s of “The Whisperers

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Connolly earned a B.A. in English from Trinity College and a M.A. in Journalism from Dublin City University. His bibliography includes the long-running Charlie Parker thriller series which began with the Shamus Award-winning Every Dead Thing, The Book of Lost Things fantasy novel, various short stories, and YA fiction—The Gates and The Infernals. He is also a regular contributor to The Irish Times and currently lives in Dublin, Ireland.

PLOT SUMMARY: Randall Haight has a secret: when he was a teenager, he and his friend killed a 14-year-old girl.

Randall did his time and built a new life in the small Maine town of Pastor's Bay, but somebody has discovered the truth about Randall. He is being tormented by anonymous messages, haunting reminders of his past crime, and he wants private detective Charlie Parker to make it stop.

But another 14-year-old girl has gone missing, this time from Pastor's Bay, and the missing girl's family has its own secrets to protect. Now Parker must unravel a web of deceit involving the police, the FBI, a doomed mobster named Tommy Morris, and Randall Haight himself.

Because Randall Haight is telling lies . . .

CLASSIFICATION: John Connolly's novels combine the noir quality of thrillers with the mystical aspect of supernatural fiction, to create a sub-genre of their own.

FORMAT/INFO: The Burning Soul is 406 pages long divided over six Parts and forty-one chapters. However, there is no prologue or epilogue which is a first for the Charlie Parker series. Narration is in the first-person via Charlie Parker and in the third-person via Randall Haight, Tommy Morris, Martin Dempsey and Frank Ryan. Like the previous books, the narrative alternates each chapter between Parker and the rest of the cast. The Burning Soul is completely self-contained and can be read as a standalone novel, although there are a few references to the previous books, but nothing major or spoiler-ish. The Burning Soul is the tenth Charlie Parker novel after The Whisperers.

September 6, 2011 marked the North American Hardcover publication of The Burning Soul via Atria Books. The UK edition was published by Hodder & Stoughton on September 1, 2011.

ANALYSIS: I’m a major fan of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels, which have become part of my yearly reading routine, and I anxiously await each new release to see where the author takes us next. Last year’s Charlie Parker novel, The Whisperers, while a good book, had something missing in it that made it seem a bit inferior compared to earlier stalwarts such as The Lovers, The Black Angel, et cetera. So I was curious to see how the new Charlie Parker novel would measure up to the rest of the series.

The Burning Soul is a bit different in plot structure from the previous Charlie Parker novels as there is no Prologue. Instead, the tale begins immediately as readers are introduced to the town of Pastor’s Bay where a teenager named Anna Kore has gone missing.  While the state and local police go about their normal routines, it’s obvious there is something different about this case due to the involvement of the FBI. Charlie soon becomes involved himself when Aimee Price, his attorney and some time employer, asks him to help her with a client: Randall Haight, who killed a 14-year-old girl with his friend when they were teenagers. Randall has done his time, accepted his part in the crime and is living peacefully in Pastor’s Bay, but now someone is sending him messages about his past and blackmailing him. On a separate track, readers follow the downward spiral of Boston gangster Tommy Morris who is being hunted by his former associates. Helping Tommy out are Martin Dempsey & Frankie Ryan, two men who will do whatever Tommy asks of them. From here, The Burning Soul follows these two separate threads, providing clues along the way as to how everything might be connected...

Plot-wise, The Burning Soul hearkens back to the earlier mystery-filled plots of the first four Charlie Parker novels. More specifically, the book features a frequently used mystery trope about a missing person in a small town with its own dark secrets. It’s a trope that John Connolly excels at, while giving it his own spin thanks to the Boston gangsters storyline and numerous plot twists that will keep readers on their toes, particularly during the climax. At the same time, The Burning Soul is kind of a throwback to the earlier Charlie Parker thrillers where the supernatural wasn’t as prevalent as it is in the previous few books. That’s not to say the novel is completely devoid of supernatural elements, but the focus of the book is mainly on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Anna Kore and whether Randall Haight is guilty or not. Humor meanwhile, is more pronounced in this book thanks to the presence of Angel, Louis and the Fulcis.

John Connolly’s writing is once again excellent, highlighted by prose that is dark, descriptive and haunting. Of particular note are these three passages which pertain to the title of the book, life’s terrible truths, and the vagaries of fortune:

“Here is a truth, a truth by which to live: there is hope. There is always hope. If we choose to abandon it, our souls will turn to ash and blow away. But the soul can burn and not be damned. The Soul can burn with a bright fire, and never turn to ash.”

“There are some truths so terrible that they should not be spoken aloud, so appalling that even to acknowledge them is to risk sacrificing a crucial part of one’s humanity, to exist in a colder, crueler world.”

“You have to be careful what lies you tell. You have to be careful in case your lies are heard, and the gods of the underworld mock you by turning them to truths.”

Characterization is another of the author’s strengths. This is best exemplified by scene-stealer Martin Dempsey, a violent man prone to philosophical ramblings, frank observations and both cruelty & loyalty toward his gang mates, which made his chapters fun to read. Then there’s Randall Haight, a man caught between his past and his present, a duality wonderfully captured in his chapters through intimate thoughts and memories that portray a man haunted and partly destroyed by guilt.

Drawbacks are few, but the way The Burning Soul completely sidesteps the plot developments of Charlie Parker’s previous 3-4 books is a major concern. For instance, a possible new partner to Charlie was introduced in The Lovers, but there is no mention of that character in The Burning Soul or its predecessor. A disappointing omission since I was interested to see how that subplot might develop.

CONCLUSION: Apart from a few minor niggles, The Burning Soul is another excellent entry in the Charlie Parker series and will certainly appeal to fans of the private detective, while also acting as a wonderful starting point for readers who have yet to discover why John Connolly is such a popular author on both sides of the Atlantic...
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"The Islanders" and "The Dream Archipelago" by Christopher Priest (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Christopher Priest Website
Order The Islanders HERE
Order The Dream Archipelago HERE

INTRODUCTION: Christopher Priest is probably best known for The Prestige since the movie adaption of the book has been a reasonably successful and talked about 2006 film. While I have heard of the author before I watched the movie, the lack of easy availability of his titles in the US in the 90's when I widely explored the sff genre, prevented me from giving his work a try, while in the 00's when easy online availability came about, I tended to focus - as today - on new authors and books unless something really motivated me to check older works.

But I was sufficiently impressed by the movie to start reading Mr. Priest's oeuvre, and while The Prestige, the novel, was interesting but lacked the dramatic flair of the film to a large extent - one of the few cases where an adaptation is better in many ways than the original - and his most recent novel from 2002, The Separation, left me somewhat cold with its strong dollops of British nationalism, The Affirmation and The Glamour are two of the most awesome novels I've ever read which got the author a place on my all time favorite books list.

The Affirmation which has one of the most mind blowing ending of all times, partly takes place in the Dream Archipelago, a world circling sequence of islands which is the topic of the collection with the same title and of the novel The Islanders. The reissue of a complete Dream Archipelago stories collection in 2009 and the present publication of The Islanders offer the readers a superb glimpse at one of the most fascinating secondary worlds in current sff.

I strongly recommended to get both and read them together since the stories from The Dream Archipelago are sequels, prequels, in one case identical but for a shift in narrative style from third to first person, or more generally just related by characters and setting to various chapters in The Islanders and the two fit perfectly together as one superb creation, with the more dramatic style of the earlier work adding the "zing" I felt missing on my first solo read of the present novel.



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Before starting my discussion of The Dream Archipelago sequence composed of the collection of the same name and of The Islanders, I will remark that there is a case to be made - and there are some reviews around that actually do that - to treat at least the novel as a literary game. As I tend to strongly believe that a novel has value only if it is "alive" and I dislike literary games and literary cleverness for its sake as an empty sterile endeavor, I will treat both books as "living", or in other words as referring to possible real places, real people, etc.

Part of that requires that the "author-reader" implied covenant of suspending the disbelief holds and I will touch on how The Islanders by itself failed on occasion there for me, but on reading it together with the more dynamic collection, that failure disappeared.

So, what is The Dream Archipelago? Well, according to the preface from the novel, supposedly penned by renowned writer Chester Kammerton - one of the main human characters of The Islanders, it is:

"The Dream Archipelago is the largest geographical feature on our world. The islands are found around the whole girth of the planet, spreading across tropical, subtropical and temperate latitudes, both north and south of the equator. They are placed in the only ocean we have: this is known as the Midway Sea and it too is circumambient of the world. The sea with its islands occupies more than seventy per cent of the total surface area, and contains more than eighty per cent of all the world’s water"

Of course the reality is much subtler insofar there are a lot of peculiarities to both the world and the Archipelago itself, where the "main feature" of the rest of the world is the continual war between several Northern continent powers - Faiand and Glaund are the most notable - war that is mostly prosecuted on the icy, barren Southern continent, though of course the Archipelago is "in the way", being somewhat protected by the "Neutrality Covenant". Again from The Islanders:

"The political concerns of this world of ours are worrying. Many of the countries in the north are at war with each other – they have been at it for as long as I have been alive, they were at it for at least three centuries before I was born, and they show every eager sign of being at it for centuries more to come. The issues over which they violently disagree, and the alliances they have formed in an attempt to prevail, are often reported in our newspapers and on television, but few islanders seem to take much notice. This is largely because in an act of unusual, not to say unique, far-sightedness, the elders of the Dream Archipelago long ago drew up and agreed a document called the Covenant of Neutrality. The Covenant is just about the only matter on which the various peoples of the islands have ever agreed. It extends to every island, small or large, populated or unpopulated, and it was intended to guarantee that the belligerent concerns of the north should not affect the people of the Archipelago"

But of course the Archipelago has its unique features due to geography and biology, science and art and one of the most important such that essentially gave its "Dream" name and puts the narrative threads in the "guess what's reliable or not" category is:

"The problems of mapping the Dream Archipelago are well understood. High-altitude aerial cartography is more or less impossible because of the distortion caused by the temporal gradients. These gradients, impossible for me to explain here (there is an attempt later in the book), exist in every part of the world except at the magnetic poles."

So, this is the world the author asks us to accept when we embark on the journey of exploration that "The Islanders" offers. The structure of the novel consists of 53 chapters that offer an overview of individual or groups of islands in alphabetical order, though important ones like Muriseay or Derril have several successive chapters. Each chapter tends to start with a short description and end with an overview of local currency and main laws, but in-between you can have anything from a historical tale, to a part of the loose main thread that follow several artists and their relationships, as well as hinting at a murder mystery, to pure description, to first person narration.

On the other hand, The Dream Archipelago has a more traditional structure of eight stories, to which some of the chapters of The Islanders are prequels, sequels, or just related, while in one case the corresponding "A Trace of Him"/"The Trace" are almost identical except for a shift from third to first person narration and some sentence modifications.

When I first read the novel by itself, the thing that struck me the most was the change in the author's style from his earlier intense and dramatic narrations to a more detached style at least in most of The Islanders' chapters. I felt that did not work that well at least for me since it make me think about the book rather than being immersed and there are quite a few places where the world building does not really stand up to close scrutiny at least if you want to imagine it as a "potentially real place" rather than a literary game that's "clever scribbles on paper that are essentially meaningless". For example a character sculpts a mountains with paid help, but the locals seem blissfully unaware, which runs utterly contrary to human nature and its limitless capacity for gossip.

But when I started reading the novel and the collection together in the natural way - each story from The Dream Archipelago at its natural place in the structure of The Islanders, the more dramatic prose from the earlier stories perfectly countered the more detached tome of the novel and I finally could appreciate the books as they deserve to be.

Overall, I think that the Dream Archipelago experience the author presents in The Islanders and in the related story collection, is indeed a masterpiece of modern sff and I expect to be enchanted by it again and again across the years.

Monday, September 26, 2011

“Eyes To See” by Joseph Nassise (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Eyes To SeeHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joseph Nassise is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the internationally bestselling Templar Chronicles and several books in the Rogue Angel action/adventure series from Gold Eagle. He’s also a former president of the Horror Writers Association, and a two-time Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee. He currently lives with his family in Phoenix, Arizona.

PLOT SUMMARY: Jeremiah Hunt was happily married, the father of a lovely young daughter, and successfully employed at Harvard. Then his life fell apart. One moment, his daughter was playing in her room; the next, she was gone without a trace. Within months, Hunt’s obsessive search for his daughter cost him everything else of value in his life: his marriage, his career, his reputation. Desperate to reclaim what was lost, he finally turns to the supernatural for justice.

Sacrificing his normal sight so that he can see the ‘unseen’, Jeremiah enters a world of ghosts and even more dangerous entities that stalk his worst nightmares. Doomed to walk between the light of day and the deepest darkness beyond night, Hunt now earns a meager living chasing away wayward spirits that are tormenting the living, while taking on the occasional consulting job for the Boston police department.

On his latest consulting job, Jeremiah is asked to investigate a series of brutal murders that leads him to new friends, new enemies and new clues about his daughter, propelling Hunt on a desperate search for answers. A search that will force Hunt to confront an ageless, malevolent entity that would use him for its own nefarious purposes...

FORMAT/INFO: Eyes To See is 320 pages long divided over fifty-six numbered chapters. Each chapter is subtitled either ‘Now’ to represent the present, or ‘Then’ to represent the past. For the most part, narration is in the first-person via Jeremiah Hunt, but the narrative switches to various third-person POVs (hedge witch Denise Clearwater, an unnamed creature, etc.) throughout the novel. Eyes To See wraps up some of the book’s main storylines, but it is the first volume in The Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle, which will be followed by King of the Dead in 2012. October 11, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Eyes To See via Tor. Cover art is provided by Cliff Nielsen.

ANALYSIS: Urban fantasy is a genre I’ve almost completely sworn off due to reasons vented elsewhere. That said, I’m always on the lookout for titles that might bring something new to the table. In the case of Joseph Nassise’s Eyes To See, readers are promised an urban fantasy novel that “charts daring new territory in the field” if the synopsis and author blurbs are anything to go by, but does the book really deliver on that promise? The answer is yes . . . and no.

For the most part, Eyes To See is a typical urban fantasy novel. Between Jeremiah Hunt’s first-person narrative; his supernatural gifts—including the ability to see and communicate with ghosts; the contemporary urban setting where vampires, demons, angels, witches and the like all exist; and a story that mixes mystery & police procedural with the paranormal, Eyes To See offers very few surprises for anyone familiar with the genre. In fact, I was constantly reminded of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series and The Dresden Files as I was reading the book, although there are a couple of neat ideas in the novel like Jeremiah’s ability to borrow attributes (sight and strength) from a ghost.

What separates Eyes To See from its competition is the disappearance of the protagonist’s daughter five years earlier, which not only precipitated the chain of events that resulted in Jeremiah Hunt developing supernatural abilities, but also acts as the driving element behind his current actions in the novel, whether it’s performing exorcisms or doing consulting work for the Boston PD. As a father of two young children, I was really moved by Jeremiah’s loss, which is relived in painful detail through gut-wrenching flashbacks that cover his daughter’s disappearance, the despairing search for the missing girl, Hunt’s descent into madness, and the Faustian deal that made him blind, while granting him ‘ghostsight’. It’s heartbreaking stuff, infusing Eyes To See with an emotional punch that is unusual for the genre, but refreshing.

Unfortunately, Joseph Nassise is unable to maintain this emotional impact for the entire novel. After the secondary characters have been fully introduced and the story kicks into high gear, the disappearance of Jeremiah’s daughter becomes overshadowed by more conventional urban fantasy fare, including a murder mystery, an attraction developing between Hunt and the hedge witch Denise Clearwater, and dealing with a supernatural threat. To make matters worse, the author’s execution is hit-and-miss over the last two-thirds of the novel, punctuated by third-person POVs that pale in comparison to Jeremiah Hunt’s first-person narrative, at the same time failing to flesh out any of the secondary characters, and a narrative plagued by inconsistencies (Why is the creature trying to frame Jeremiah which seems at odds with its original plan?), characters acting out of turn (Dmitri giving up on Denise so easily), improbable scenarios—Hunt’s effortless escape from the police, Detective Miles Stanton’s timely intervention, etc.—and a climax that feels rushed.

Joseph Nassise does redeem himself at the end of the novel when the fate of Jeremiah’s daughter is unveiled, but the revelation lacks the impact it could have had if the book hadn’t become sidetracked by murder mysteries, romantic developments and supernatural drama.

Writing-wise, apart from weak supporting characters and issues with the narrative, Eyes To See is a very polished urban fantasy novel, highlighted by Jeremiah Hunt’s compelling first-person narrative and skilled prose:

A sudden, overwhelming sense of despair washed over us. One moment we were perfectly fine and the next, drowning in a sea of emotion. It was the helplessness of a young child lost at the county fair without a familiar face in sight, the horror of a prisoner facing a life sentence in a six-by-eight box of a cell, the utter hopelessness of watching your family slaughtered horribly before your eyes while you lay bound on the floor, unable to do anything to stop it, all rolled up into one neat little package.

Parents experience a unique kind of fear. It is at once more visceral and more paralyzing than any other fear, a cold, clammy hand that squeezes your heart until your very blood starts to drip from between its fingers. It invades your mind like an alien presence, disrupts your thought processes and ratchets your emotions right off the scale, until you can’t possibly think straight and every second is an eternity, an eternity where all you can do is think about all of the terrible things that could have happened to your precious child.

CONCLUSION: Because of the emotional punches landed by Jeremiah Hunt’s missing daughter, Joseph Nassise’s Eyes To See is partially successful in bringing something new to the genre, but in other areas, the novel doesn’t measure up to its peers due to one-dimensional supporting characters, narrative shortcomings, and relying too much on familiar urban fantasy trappings. Still, as far as the genre is concerned, Eyes To See is solidly entertaining, and I’m curious to see what happens in the next Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle, King of the Dead...
Sunday, September 25, 2011

“The Emperor's Edge” by Lindsay Buroker (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Emperor’s EdgeHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Encrpted

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lindsay Buroker is a writer who was influenced by J.A. Konrath to become a self-published author. She has a B.A from the University of Washington and also served in the military. Nowadays she works as an independent Internet professional and lives in the greater Seattle area. She has written six books so far including Encrypted and Flash Gold.

PLOT SUMMARY: Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire's most notorious assassin is in town. He's tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills . . . or someone wants her dead.

FORMAT/INFO: The Kindle edition 318 pages long divided over twenty-one chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is evenly divided in the third-person omniscient chapters between Amaranthe Lokdon and Emperor Sespian Savarsin. The plot is completely self-contained, but is the first book of the Emperor’s Edge series.

ANALYSIS: Liviu Suciu previously reviewed Lindsay Buroker’s novel Encrypted on FBC, which is how I became interested in the author’s work. So when I heard about The Emperor’s Edge, a fantasy-steampunk hybrid, I immediately bought a copy on Amazon.

The Emperor’s Edge is set in the capital city of the Turgonian Empire, which is ruled by science and refutes magic as an unworthy practice. It is also facing tension across its borders from the country of Nuria where magic is given free rein. Into this backdrop, reader are immediately introduced to Amaranthe Lokdon, a lowly corporal stuck on patrol duty with her lazy partner Wholt. Readers are also introduced to Emperor Sespian Savarsin, who is trying to get back on his feet, while Commander Hollowcrest helps him rule the empire. During a routine patrol, Amaranthe and Wholt discover a suspicious fire that spirals out of control. Soon after, events occur which pull Amaranthe from her normal duties as an imperial enforcer to hunting down Sicarius, the most dangerous assassin in the world. And thus the plot to this fantastical story begins...

Instead of going for an all-original idea, Lindsay Buroker has taken an oft-used concept and presented it with her own additions. So even though The Emperor’s Edge is described as a “high fantasy novel in the era of steam”, the book comes across as a campy fantasy adventure hybrid . In fact, what I liked most about the novel was its campy feel, which includes characters and situations often cropping up to delude the protagonists of their well thought-out but slightly improper plans. This kept me chuckling constantly as the humor quotient is kept at a remarkably steady level. Granted, the story sometimes takes silly turns, but the plot twists and Lindsay Buroker’s writing make these moments entertaining rather than overtly stupid.

Another important factor for me was the great characterization. Even though there are only two POVs in The Emperor’s Edge, there are several supporting characters involved in the main plot and the author makes sure each one is unique, if not a bit stereotypical, but I think that was more for comedic effect. Amaranthe though is the most well-rounded character in the book, as readers are shown a close look at her down-to-earth, hard working personality; her thoughts; and using her tenacity and gift of persuasion to overcome the challenges in her life. Not only that, but Amaranthe is the emotional core of the book. Be it her interactions with Sicarius, Books, Maldynado, etc.; her calm nature; or her deductive ability; Amaranthe comes across as a heroic persona.

Sicarius is another intriguing character, but not many details are revealed about him. Hopefully the author will rectify this in the sequel. World-building is also very impressive with the world of The Emperor’s Edge brought to life through vivid descriptions. Lastly, there’s no quasi-European feel to this novel. So instead of the usual medieval routine, Lindsay Buroker offers readers a more tropical setting highlighted by racial diversity.

Not everything about The Emperor’s Edge is rosy however. The plot for instance, is very linear, not to mention predictable, while secondary characters possess clear-cut agendas and are pretty much black and white.

CONCLUSION: After reading just one book—the very fun and entertaining fantasy adventure hybrid that is The Emperor’s Edge—I’ve become a Lindsay Buroker fan and can’t wait to read the rest of her series. For anyone who loves David Eddings, Terry Brooks and Rachel Aaron, The Emperor’s Edge is a book I heartily recommend to you...

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